Four-time champion Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup after losing at Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their playoff on Friday.
Substitute Jakob Johansson scored shortly after the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the area that deflected in off Daniele De Rossi. After a long throw-in, Ola Toivonen headed the ball out to Johansson and his deflected drive wrong-footed goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The Azzurri created few chances at Friends Arena outside Stockholm and were fortunate not to concede more goals after allowing Sweden a series of free kicks early on.
Italy’s best opportunity was a long effort from Matteo Darmian that squarely hit the post in the 70th. The Azzurri’s only other significant chance was a header from Andrea Belotti six minutes in.
Sweden imposed itself with its physicality and playmaker Emil Forsberg proved especially dangerous with his passing skills, setting up numerous opportunities.
Early in the second half, Italy became outraged at Sweden’s physicality, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact. But Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir said to play on.
Making matters more complicated for Italy was that creative midfielder Marco Verratti picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the return match on Monday at Milan’s San Siro.
Italy has participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden.
The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships. While Sweden didn’t compete in the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group.
South Africa’s defender Dean Furman, left, is in hot pursuit for the ball with Senegal’s midfielder Sadio Mane, right, during Friday’s 2018 World Cup Africa Group D qualifying match in Polkowane, South Africa. Mane was pivotal in both goals in a 2-0 Senegal win. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images)
New Zealand, Peru all to play for
New Zealand — Oceania champion New Zealand drew 0-0 with Peru on Saturday in the first leg of their intercontinental World Cup playoff.
The teams will head to Lima next week for the return leg with the South Americans looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1982 and New Zealand aiming to return for the first time since 2010.
Peru, which finished fifth in the South American qualifying tournament and is currently ranked 10th in the world, was heavily favoured to beat New Zealand, but struggled in the absence of star striker and captain, Paolo Guerrero, who was suspended after failing a doping test.
New Zealand, ranked 122nd in the world, also suffered a setback before kickoff when Burnley striker Chris Wood was forced out of the starting lineup because of a lingering hamstring injury, although he did come on a second half substitute as the home side pressed for a late goal.
Senegal in after replay win over South Africa
Senegal has qualified for the World Cup in Russia, seizing the second chance it was given by FIFA to beat South Africa 2-0 in a replay of a game it lost last year.
FIFA ordered the qualifier to be played again because of match-fixing by the referee in the initial match in November 2016. Senegal used the contentious replay on Friday to seal its place at the World Cup.
Sadio Mane was pivotal in both goals. He set up Diafra Sakho for the opener in the 12th minute and forced an own goal by South Africa defender Thamsanqa Mkhize in the 39th.
Senegal joins Nigeria and Egypt as qualifiers from Africa, so far. The last two qualifiers from Africa will be decided on Saturday.
FIFA’s unprecedented decision to order a replay and give Senegal another chance after finding Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey guilty of match-fixing caused serious discontent among the other teams in Senegal’s group.
South Africa decried the decision to strip it of the victory last year as unfair while Burkina Faso, which was hoping for a first-ever appearance at the World Cup, appealed FIFA’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
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